Beijing ramps up efforts to attract talents in competition with smaller cities

Beijing's CBD area Photo: Thinkstock

Driven by fears of being on a sticky wicket in the intensifying competition for talents, Beijing has adopted new measures to attract experts, professionals and innovative people, as the Chinese capital is reportedly limiting the influx of low-end workers to control population growth, which is considered to undermine the city's efforts to remove non-capital functions.

Under the new talent introduction policy, experts targeted by China's Thousand Talents Plan, a talent recruitment scheme launched by the government 10 years ago to bring excellent Chinese researchers, scholars and entrepreneurs living abroad back to China, winners of technology and invention awards and innovative talents in areas of business, finance, culture, sports, education, healthcare and international exchange will be given priority for the city's permanent residency.

Beijing is a Chinese city where most migrant workers find it impossible to get permanent residency, or hukou. In 2017, the Chinese capital introduced a strict points-based permanent residency policy, allowing well-educated, highly-skilled migrants, who had paid social security premiums for seven consecutive years, to obtain Beijing residency by having their attributes in employment, educational background, creativity, tax payment, age, award-winning record and legal compliance converted into certain points in the points-based system.

The new talent introduction policy came amid rising concerns over Beijing's economic prospects. In 2017, Beijing's economy grew just 6.7 percent year-on-year, lower than China's 6.9 percent growth in the same year, according to statistics from financial data provider Wind Information. Beijing also lagged behind Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) growth last year, with Shenzhen's economic growth rate approximately reaching 9 percent, showed the statistics. As the country's four biggest cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen are top destinations for migrant workers.

With the Chinese government seeing talent as a key factor contributing to the realization of its goals of maintaining medium-high economic growth and turning the country into the world's innovative and technological powerhouse, Beijing definitely cannot throw in the towel in the scramble for talented people especially at a time when many second-tier cities had introduced a series of incentives to retain talents.

In the past two years, China's second-tier cities including Hangzhou, Wuhan and Nanjing have doubled down their efforts on making themselves more attractive to talents.

Nanjing, the capital city of eastern China's Jiangsu province, has designed favorable policies, under which people who hold a master's degree or higher academic degrees are entitled to the city's permanent residency. University students can get a one-off government subsidy of 2,000 yuan if they start a business locally, according to Nanjing's policies. Wuhan, the capital city of the Chinese southern province of Hubei has done similar things, with its Party secretary calling on graduate and doctoral students to stay by providing talent-focused housing policies which enable them to buy an apartment with lower prices. And Hangzhou, the host city of the G20 summit in 2016, has also followed suit, even lowering the academic threshold for citizenship application and offering government housing subsidy of up to 1 million yuan to a high-end talent who agrees to work there.

A report on China's occupational mobility released by Chinese online recruitment platform showed that Hangzhou ranked first among top destinations for talents in the second half of 2017. Hangzhou was followed by Shenzhen, Chengdu, Shanghai and Beijing, according to the report.

Last year, Hangzhou and many other second-tier cities including Nanjing, Wuhan, Chengdu, Xi'an and Qingdao were included into a national strategy, which helps these cities to develop into the "central cities of the state", increasing their magnetism to domestic talents.

Some experts, however, argued that Beijing's strengthened efforts to introduce talents might lead to the marginalization of undereducated migrant workers in the labor-intensive industries in Beijing, saying that a certain proportion of high-end and low-end workers should be maintained in a city in order to ensure complementarity in the process of production while dismissing the notion that undereducated migrant workers are not needed in a developed city.

And these experts' worries are amplified by Beijing's plans to cap its population at 23 million by 2020. Last year, some Western media reports described the campaign of demolishing the so-called illegal structures in Beijing, mainly used for small business by migrant workers, as a "ruthless" policy to drive the low-end people out of the city.

Opening gates wider to global talents

And with the implementation of the Chinese talent introduction policy, Beijing had also shown an open attitude to global talents, with the latest visa policy allowing high-end foreign talents including entrepreneurs, scientists and heavyweights in the technology-intensive sectors to gain a Chinese visa valid for up to 10 years.

During the annual session of the National People's Congress which closed last week, State Councilor Wang Yong announced that a new immigration bureau was set to be established to handle foreigners' affairs including the making and implementation of immigration policies, visa management and repatriation of illegal immigrants.

Two years ago, China issued a document to ease the Chinese green card application requirements for foreigners who are qualified in terms of salary, tax payment, business achievement, social reputation and so on. The document was followed by a trial operation of a national work permit system that would rank foreign workers by A, B and C grades. Partly thanks to the policies, more than 1,500 foreigners were granted China's permanent residency in 2016, when more than 900,000 foreigners worked in the country, according to official data.

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